Barack Obama Awards Defense Chief Robert Gates Medal of Freedom

Barack Obama awarded retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates the Presidential Medal of Freedom at a farewell ceremony on Thursday morning.

President Barack Obama presents Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Secretary Gates at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., June 30, 2011. Photo: Pete Souza/The Official White House

Barack Obama and Vice President Biden travelled to the Pentagon to attend the Armed Services farewell ceremony in honor of Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He is one of the longest serving Secretaries of Defense in U.S. history. The President presented Secretary Gates with the Medal of Freedom. This Medal is the highest civilian honor the president can bestow.

Obama said as he asked Gates to step forward to receive the award: “I can think of no better way to express the gratitude of the nation to Bob Gates than with a very special recognition.”  President Obama remarked Secretary Gates’ long history of public service (serving under eight different Presidents) and his commitment to serving  troops.

Gates quipped that he “should have known the president was getting pretty good at this covert ops stuff,” an apparent reference to last month’s secret raid in Pakistan that killed terrorist leader Osama bin Laden. He said that his four-and-a-half years as defense secretary, a period he oversaw the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, U.S. military involvement in Libya, “has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life, and for that I will always be grateful.”

Gates thanked George W. Bush and Obama. Under these two presidents he managed to hold the job.  Obama lauded Gates during the ceremony for improving security for troops in the field, modernizing care for veterans and cutting unnecessary spending in the Defense Department.

Obama called Robert Gates “a humble American patriot, a man of common sense and decency, and one of the nation’s finest public servants”. The President said: “Bob Gates made it his mission to make sure this department is serving our troops in the field as well as it serves us.”

Gates, who became defense secretary in December 2006 under Bush, is being replaced by outgoing CIA Director Leon Panetta. Gates plans to move back to his lakeside home in Washington state, where he’ll write a book about his time leading the U.S. military, which is likely to include at least a few chapters on the war in Iraq. [via The White House, NPR and Reuters]

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